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The E4 Interview

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TA few weeks ago on digital channel E4, Matthew Smith suddenly reappeard in an interview with Iain Lee, dispelling many myths in 20 minutes flat! Here's what happenned...


Iain Lee: Manic Miner was Britain's first software blockbuster. You played Miner Willy, who had to jump his way through 20 screens of platforms, collecting treasure - all to a continuous soundtrack, which had previously been thought impossible to do on the Sinclair machine. It also had a very British sense of humour - when you died, a Pythonesque foot descended to crush the hapless miner. As if that weren't daunting enough, there were also mutant jellyfish and flying lavatories to contend with.

<clip of "Bits 'n' Pieces", Grampian TV 1983> Presenter: And here's Matthew Smith. Matthew, how on earth do you come to write a program like Manic Miner?

Matthew Smith: I do shut myself away for a while to actually get the program written...

Steven Poole: Matthew Smith became very wealthy very quickly with the success of Manic Miner and its sequel, Jet Set Willy. Then he disappeared - he stopped writing games, and he vanished into video game myth. For the past few years, there's been a website up, called "Where is Matthew Smith?", and people have been calling in sightings. According to some rumours he was planting tulips in Amsterdam; other people claimed to have heard him calling in on radio talk shows, or seeing him in the local supermarket.

MS [1983 clip]: I think it's going to get to a stage where one person can't write a whole game.

MS [present day]: I was 17 when I wrote Manic Miner. From start to finish... I was in Italy writing, drawing pictures of some levels with some water running down, and I came back - and in 8 weeks we were duplicating cassettes.

MS: I had a Tandy TRS-80, but it crashed every time anybody put the kettle on, so I had to work at night. My favourite monster in Manic Miner - I got the most compliments on the telephones. [waggles arms up and down, Mutant Telephone style]

MS: There was a game on the Atari written by an American called Bill Hogue. He was very much an inspiration. The game he wrote was Miner 2049er, which was a little man jumping round on platforms collecting things and avoiding the baddies. [laughs] Iain Lee: Sounds like a winner, I like it!

<cut to Matt's house> IL: Alright Matt, we're here, we've got the Spectrum... Right, well let's load up Manic Miner, the game that you obviously wrote.... the Spectrum keys confuse me, 'cause it's got the words on. Now, this is LOAD, symbol shift...

MS: I made the first screen fairly hard, just so a stranger to it could enjoy a lot of the frustration without having to get very good at it. <game over sound effect> IL: A single mistake like that is enough to end it all. Where did the boot come from, that kills you at the end, loses your chance? MS: Ummm... out of the top of the screen!

IL: Manic Miner - this is the first game, Jet Set Willy is sort of the sequel to it, isn't it - the same character and stuff. How long did that take to write? MS: It was a slog getting Jet Set Willy finished. IL: Were they really pressuring you to come up with the next big hit? Were you getting people phoning you up saying, "Come on Matt, you got to do this"? MS: Yeah, the assumption was that once you do one in a certain time, you can keep doing it in the same time.

IL [voiceover]: Every Spectrum owner eagerly awaited the final release of the trilogy, the now legendary "Miner Willy Meets The Taxman". IL [to Matt]: Wasn't there supposed to be a third one, Jet Set Willy Meets The Taxman or something? MS: Er, yeah. IL: Well, what happened to that? MS: Taxman was way at the back of the queue there. IL: Really?... Without being rude, how much did you make from Manic Miner? MS: I did have a substantial sum, but I expected a whole lot more, so I spent what I had very foolishly.

IL: You are the stuff of legend, you are a legend, there's no doubt about it, in this sort of world you are. Can I run past some rumours that are on the net about you, and you can just tell us if it's true or if it's false. You lived in Holland in a commune... MS: This is... yeah. IL: When did that happen? MS: That was a great time. I went there in ... 95. IL: Okay: You worked as a fish seller... MS: Er... hmmm... no, I don't think I ever *sold* fish. I tried to get a job in a fish gutting factory, but I applied at the wrong time of year.

IL: What does it feel like to know there are a lot of people interested in what you're doing now - twenty years after you wrote this? MS: Well, everything comes around and goes around. Five years after I did it, I was a washout. Ten years after I did it, I was history. But coming up to twenty years now, and I'm a legend!


Cheers to Matthew Westcott (gasman@raww.org.RemoveThisBit.invalid) for the transcript.


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Last updated: September 12, 2001.

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